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Sheep Without A Shepherd (Wu Sha)

Director – Sam Quah – 2019 – China – Cert. 15 – 112m

*****

A family stands together when their daughter kills the local police chief’s son who is both a rapist and blackmailer – available to rent online in the new Chinese Cinema Season 2021 in the UK & Ireland.

This opens with a prison break in which the escapee ends up interred in a coffin next to the corpse of the man who was trying to get him out. That turns out to be a story told by Li Wiejie or Jie for short (Xiao Yang), an insatiable watcher of detective and crime thrillers. The film lays its cinematic cards on the table almost immediately by referencing Hitchcock, montage, sound effects, excitement and The Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont, 1994). Sheep Without A Shepherd is in thrall to the West’s suspense movies and plays out like one while at the same time retaining its distinctive Chinese character with its emphasis on the importance of family ties and loyalty.

Jie and his wife (Tan Zhuo) run a small store in Thailand. Their daughter Ping known in the family as PingPing (Audrey Hui) persuades dad to fund her to go to summer camp where she is drugged and videoed being gang-raped by privileged brat Su Cha (Beety) and his pals.… Read the rest

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A Witness Out Of The Blue (Fan Zui Xian Chang)

Director – Fung Chi-Keung – 2019 – Hong Kong – Cert. N/C 15+ – 104m

****

When a member of a gang of jewel thieves is found dead, the murder suspect may not be the obvious person – online in the UK as part of Hong Kong Focus 2021 from Tuesday, February 9th to Monday, February 15th

Following a jewellery store heist, a gang of robbers are to meet to split the loot. But someone gets to gang member Homer Tsui first, slits his throat and makes off with the bag of jewellery. There are no witnesses unless you count the pet macaw which saw the whole thing. When gang leader Sean Wong (Louis Koo) arrives, Tsui is already dead.

Senior Inspector Yip (Philip Keung) is convinced Wong is guilty. “He’s harsh”, says pretty young officer Charmaine (Cherry Ngan), “but he takes care of you.” However, Officer Larry Lam (Louis Cheung Kai-Chung) seems to get on the wrong side of Yip all the time. Lam is passionate about caring for animals and runs a cat sanctuary in his spare time, but he’s got himself into debt with a loan shark setting it up and following an early morning run in with the moneylender arrives late to the crime scene of Tsui’s murder, not to mention slipping on some blood and falling flat on a corpse.… Read the rest

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Creepy (Kuripi: Itsuwari no rinjin)

Director – Kiyoshi Kurosawa – 2016 – Japan – Cert. 15 – 130m

****

Currently on BFI Player as part of 21st Century Japan, MUBI as part of The Uncanny Universe of Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Eureka Video Dual Format BluRay/DVD.

The following review originally appeared in Funimation UK.

Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s new crime thriller Creepy draws on Vertigo, Psycho and Audition.

The latest film by Kiyoshi Kurosawa to receive a UK cinema release is an extraordinary and highly original crime thriller with more than a passing nod to two better known Alfred Hitchcock films. Its opening reworks that of Vertigo (1958) while certain later narrative elements owe much to Psycho (1960) although not the parts of that film which are usually aped or recycled in other movies. It also recalls Takashi Miike’s notorious Audition (1999) in its overall structure. Yet despite these clear influences, Creepy is very much its own film.

Vertigo‘s first scene opens with the rung of a ladder grasped moments afterwards by a human hand. This develops into a chase sequence in which the vertigo of Detective ‘Scottie’ Ferguson (James Stewart) causes a cop to fall to his death. Creepy‘s first scene opens with bars over a window.… Read the rest

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Every Time I Die

Director – Robi Michael – 2019 – US – 97m

***1/2

Reality disintegrates around a man tormented by the accidental, childhood death of his sister – on VoD from Monday, October 26th

People who’ve apparently died then come back to life have often reported the sensation of going down a dark tunnel towards the light, which they then haven’t reached because they’ve been brought back to life. That motif is realised a repeated, clumsy special effect at various points in Every Time I Die, along with more subtle and arguably more successful variants on the same theme, such as a child waking up in a hospital room where the door is slightly ajar revealing a light source beyond.

Other elements recur too: protagonist Sam (Drew Fonteiro) repeatedly feels a pain in his head and blacks out, only to repeatedly come to or wake up in another scenario. He wakes as a young lad of eight (Kenneth Moronta), a camera on the table in front of him, in the hospital room with the door ajar and the light beyond, Then he wakes up, in that device we’ve seen so many times in movies where it was all a dream. Here he wakes staring at the face of Mia (Melissa Macedo) who has spent the night with him and now must leave early to go back to her husband Tyler (Tyler Dash White), a soldier recently returned from several months away on active duty.… Read the rest

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Memories Of Murder (Salinui chueok)

Director – Bong Joon Ho – 2003 – South Korea – Cert. 15 – 131m

*****

Three cops attempt to track down a serial sex killer. Based on a real life, unsolved murder case. With Song Kang-ho in cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema from Friday, September 11th

On one level, there’s nothing remarkable about Memories Of Murder, a crime movie about cops hunting a serial killer. This is a sub-genre done to death in Hollywood and elsewhere. On another level, however, it has the hallmarks of a really rich and strange talent getting hold of a well-worn formula and doing something fresh, new and original with it.

For one thing, it never dwells on the gore or fetishises the detail of the crimes. At the same time, like much Korean cinema, it never shies away from this material either. It’s unafraid to have an autopsy scene in which the pathologist discovers nine pieces of peach inside a corpse’s vagina but feels just as at ease that a testimony from a survivor throws up an important clue like, I didn’t see the killer’s face because if I had looked at him he’d have killed me, but I did notice he had soft hands.… Read the rest

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Ring (Collection)

Ring

Director – Hideo Nakata – 1998 – Japan – Cert. 15 – 96m

*****

Spiral (Rasen)

Director – Joji Iida – 1998 – Japan – Cert. 15 – 97m

** 1/2

Ring 2

Director – Hideo Nakata – 1999 – Japan – Cert. 12 – 95m

*****

Ring 0

Director – Norio Tsuruta – 2000 – Japan – Cert. 15 – 99m

***1/2

I review Arrow’s Ring Collection for All The Anime.

Ring, Ring 0 and Ring 2 are on Shudder (US, Canada) from Monday, August 10th 2020. Ring is on Arrow Video Channel (US, UK) and BFI Player (UK – extended free trial offer here).

You watch a short, scary video on the VCR. Then your phone rings… you have a week to show it to someone else – or die! Ring (1998) took the world by storm.

A single parent, TV journalist investigates a cursed videotape…

I review Arrow’s Ring Collection for All The Anime.

Ring, Ring 0 and Ring 2 are on Shudder (US, Canada) from Monday, August 10th 2020. Ring is on Arrow Video Channel (US, UK) and BFI Player (UK – extended free trial offer here).

Trailer:

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Young Ahmed (Le Jeune Ahmed)

Directors – Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne – 2019 – Belgium, France – 85m

***1/2

Exclusively on Curzon Home Cinema from Friday, August 7th

Belgian teenager Ahmed (Idir Ben Addi) is having problems with his teacher Miss Inès (Myriem Akheddiou). As he sees it, she disrespects his Muslim faith. His life timetable is governed by the time table of not, as you might expect, his school but his mosque. He must attend prayers at a specific time. Actually, his teacher and school are more than accommodating of these demands, but that’s not how Ahmed sees it.

He has long and deep discussions with his local Imam, Youssouf (Othmane Moumen), a radical jihadist and frankly a pretty creepy individual. Ahmed looks up to and trusts him. More than he does his teacher who he accuses on various occasions of betraying the faith, having a Jewish boyfriend and being an infidel. (Incidentally, this being a French language movie the word ‘infidel’ has a direct meaning of ‘unfaithful’ in that language, something I’ve never noticed before.) More than he does his mother (Claire Bodson) who he berates for having the occasional drink or two. It doesn’t help that he seems to regard women and girls as unclean and inferior.… Read the rest

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Animation Movies Shorts

Drive (Pulsión)

Director – Pedro Casavecchia – 2019 – Argentina – 7m

*****

This Argentinan short, although computer generated, has the feel of stop-motion. It brings to mind work by Lars Von Trier, the Brothers Quay, Alfred Hitchcock and David Lynch. A narrative conveyed by a series of disturbing vignettes (think: the opening minutes of Melancholia (Lars Von Trier, 2011) is put together with the same kind of fastidious technical attention to detail you find in the Quay Brothers’ films. A couple of scenes borrow directly from one of the murders in Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960), but in a clever way that shocks you much as those scenes in Psycho originally did. There’s a Lynchian feel about the whole thing – not just in the strange, quasi-industrial sounds recalling Eraserhead (David Lynch, 1977) or the weird lighting and heavily controlled mise-en-scène, but also in the overall feel of strange and terrible things happening within families and local communities, people adrift within the darkness of human existence.

As part of my Annecy 2019 coverage, I review Drive (Pulsión) for DMovies.org.

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78/52

Director – Alexandre O. Philippe – 2017 – US – Cert. 15 – 91m

*****

Oh, mother, mother, what have you done??? Find out everything you ever wanted to know about the infamous shower scene, in this doc about Psycho – – in the London Film Festival on October 13th and 15th 2017, cinemas on Friday, November 3rd 2017, and then on DVD and BFI Player Rental in 2018

When Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock) first came out in 1960, no one knew about the shower scene. These days it’s been so referenced in films, television and popular culture that everyone, it seems, does so.

This documentary is called 78/52 after the shower scene’s number of set-ups (78) and cuts (52). Psycho was shot in four weeks; one of the four was dedicated to shooting that one scene.

In some ways, 78/52 doesn’t do what it says on the tin. It talks a lot about Psycho the cultural phenomenon before it eventually gets round to the shower scene… [Read the rest]

78/52 is on BFI Player. It played BFI London Film Festival 2017 prior to cinema and DVD release.

Full review: DMovies.org.

Trailer:

Psycho trailer:

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Bluebeard (Haebing)

Director – Lee Soo-youn – 2017 – South Korea – 115m

****

A Korean Twin Peaks clone. A doctor becomes increasingly suspicious of his downstairs butchers’ shop neighbours: are they chopping people up and dumping their remains in the Han River?London Korean Film Festival (LKFF) 2017 teaser screening

Dr. Byun Seung-hoon (Cho Jin-woong) is working at a colonoscopy clinic where the owner puts in the occasional appearance. The drugs they use have the unfortunate side effect of making their patients talk freely just like people do in their sleep. One day he’s treating the demented father (Goo Shin) of his landlord Sung-geun ( Kim Dae-myung) who runs a butcher shop on the ground floor below his cramped apartment when the old man starts talking about where to put body parts such as the legs and the torso. When the TV news reports on a woman’s body found in pieces in the Han River, Byun puts two and two together.

When Dr. Byun is accosted by Sung-geun the same evening, the two go to the former’s flat and consume drink and food. Medical textbooks are stacked in piles. That’s all he reads. Oh, and mystery novels. He likes the latter because, he says, they provide him with answers… Another evening, his ex-wife comes over and tries to mend their relationship but it doesn’t work and she storms out after a furious row.… Read the rest